Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Cutting Edge: The Sixth Sense

Often films under the horror genre aim to scare and horrify the audience. However, that was not the main goal of M. Night Shyamalan's paranormal/psychological horror-thriller film 'The Sixth Sense' (1999). While this film does have eerie scenes and a few jump-scares, it is the development of the characters and the dialogue between them that really stand out. The Sixth Sense, like many horror films, has a twist ending that completely blindsides the audience. While this plot twist is more tear jerkingly emotional than scary, it ties off the loose ends of the story perfectly.

Fig 1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
It's very unusual to find a horror film that can combine such heartfelt characters and both psychological and paranormal horror with a ending that is both sad and somewhat comforting, "...this is an entrancing film, which dabbles in profound character revelation and the paranormal - something you don't often see in a movie," (Howe, 1999). However, Shyamalan's ability to build up tension and atmosphere allows for this strange combination. The Sixth Sense does not go for extremes like most horror films do. There isn't an immense amount of gore, excluding a few wounds on the ghosts, and the jump-scares aren't too intense.

Perhaps this lack of extremes is what allows the film to be scary and touching at the same time, "...subtlety is the key throughout, not big ding-dong stingers but evocative trails and hints of the truth...Shyamalan's direction is the model of restraint - disquiet and stillness pervade while he expertly utilizes sound to enhance the discomforting feeling that something indefinable being present (allowing the audience its own 'sixth sense')," (Nathan, 2000). Through subtle cues, the audience can pick up when something is wrong without the face of a rotten corpse popping onto screen or a sudden screeching sound effect deafening the audience.

Fig 2. Misty Breath
Instead, we see the terrified expression of Cole (Haley Joel Osment). When a ghost is present, we see him go rigid, his breath appears misty as the temperature drops, eerie music score creeps in. Even without seeing what he sees, the viewer can relate to Cole's fear which is largely due to Osment's superb acting. Usually child actors are not particularly striking in films, but given a child's lack of experience due to their age it is understandable. Arguably, young children are not lead roles in live-action films because of this lack of experience. However, this is not the case with Osment and his character Cole. "Haley Joel Osment is a very good actor in a film where his character possibly has more lines than anyone else. He's in most of the scenes, and he has to act in them--this isn't a role for a cute kid who can stand there and look solemn in reaction shots. There are fairly involved dialogue passages between Willis and Osment that require good timing, reactions, and the ability to listen...those scenes give the movie its weight," (Ebert, 1999).

Osment's acting gives Cole a maturity that signals to the audience that he's been through things that most people haven't. This adult-ness and ability to communicate with adults in a way that is interesting for the audience encourages us to connect to his character and Malcolm (Bruce Willis). Both actors perform in a way that allows them to have meaningful dialogue without the child sounding ignorant or the adult appearing to be condescending towards the child. Cole and Malcolm (and the actors playing them) are equals throughout the film.

Fig. 3 Cole and Malcolm
This relationship makes both the characters and the story more sincere and heartfelt, reeling in the audience for the big surprise at the end. The Sixth Sense is a strange film in that some scenes confirm it is a horror film, but other parts  of the movie feel very different. There are a few scenes where there is gore or disturbing imagery but those scenes are built up in a way that it doesn't feel as sudden and jumpy as most horror films would have it. It is refreshing to see a film that can be chilling and moving at the same time.

After watching, it is hard to put it under the 'horror' category completely because Cole and Malcolm's relationship and the twist ending shows there is so much more to it. Shyamalan managed to achieve a deep, heartfelt story while integrating subtle horror cues that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Looking back after watching the ending, its easy to see all the hints which leaves the viewer wondering, 'How did I not see that coming? I have to watch it again.'

Ebert, R. (1999) The Sixth Sense At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-sixth-sense-1999 Accessed on: 12/4/2016
Holden, S. (1999) Film Review; A Boy Who Sees the Dead, and a Psychologist Determined Not to Fail Him At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9802E3DB1430F935A3575BC0A96F958260 Accessed on: 12/4/2016
Howe, D. (1999) A Chillingly Intense 'Sense' At: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/movies/reviews/sixthsensehowe.htm Accessed on: 12/4/2016
Nathan, I. (2000) Empire Essay: The Sixth Sense Review At: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/empire-essay-sixth-sense/review/ Accessed on: 12/4/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. The Sixth Sense [Poster] At: http://img.goldposter.com/2015/04/The-Sixth-Sense_poster_goldposter_com_14.jpg Accessed on: 12/4/2016
Figure 2. Misty Breath [Film Still] At: http://images.myreviewer.co.uk/fullsize/0000222764.jpg Accessed on: 12/4/2016
Figure 3. Cole and Malcolm [Film Still] At: http://www.themoviedistrict.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/thesixthsense06B.jpg Accessed on: 12/4/2016

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Dee :)
    Some would argue about the intensity of the jump-scenes... my new boyfriend (now husband)leapt out of his seat with a scream at the bathroom scene, in a completely silent cinema! How embarrassing!! :D